ROB LUPINE remembers some spooky goings-on during his childhood in the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby
Growing up in Whitby, One was never far away from the supernatural. The town is overcast by the Abbey ruins, Sea fret drops with little or no warning plunging locals and tourists alike into bleak obscurity, and the town and surrounding villages have more than their fair share of ghostly encounters.
The town is featured heavily in Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula” and consequently there is not a school boy or girl that does not know the quickest way to deal with a vampire. Should the undead beast rise from his grave and attempt to hold the town to siege we were ready!
And it was my school days that provide the backdrop to the true story that I will now tell.
I went to a primary school on the east side of Whitby between the late 70’s and early 80’s and it was in my final years that the Grey lady caused terror and mayhem, disrupting the natural order and running of the school.
The first I heard about her was towards the end of a lunchtime break. A girl in my class approached me as I stood talking with some of my friends and asked me if I knew about the grey lady. I admitted I did not, and she immediately gave a very animated description of the ghost and what had happened earlier that morning.
Aside from being clothed in grey, dusty rags, the grey lady had another strong feature. Her hands and her bare feet were red with bloody sores. She was heard sobbing in the school assembly hall, behind the scenery panels of the stage. Apparently the deputy headmaster had gone up to investigate only to have her fling him from the platform in a show of incredible strength.
Not being present to witness this for myself I cannot verify how much of the girls story was merely artistic licence! however we listened to her story with morbid fascination and carried on talking about other things once she rushed off to tell someone else about it. To be honest I thought no more of it. Until the next day.
By then talk of the Grey lady was all over the school. She was blamed for everything from missing pencil sharpeners to unexpected fire drills. Infant classes were frightened to walk past the assembly hall, let alone go in- for the rumour was to hear her sobs would mean death within 24 hours! Teachers did their best to dismiss these stories, but no sooner had one tale been quashed, another couple of stories would arise about this spectres latest antics.
I do not remember how long this went on for- it could have been a couple of days, It might have even been a week. However I do remember the day everything came to a head, the day she manifested in front of most of the school.
The Junior playground is situated behind the school, and a path leads from it to the teachers car park, outside the assembly hall. All the juniors took that route daily to come to school, and in those days a child could easily sneak out unobserved during a break time.
On this particular day word spread across the playground that the grey lady was active in the assembly right there and then. Not wanting to miss an opportunity a gang of us slipped out of the playground to witness this paranormal activity first hand. We stood in the car park, none of us daring to get too close. At first we saw nothing, but then we became aware of dark shadows moving around within the hall. at the back of the room was a maypole, it spent most of the year stored there only to be brought out in the spring.
Suddenly we all saw it move. Gasps of astonishment emitted from the crowd as the maypole began to sway backwards and forwards until we were convinced it would topple over. And when we tried to make out what could be causing it to move like this the cause became very apparent. At the centre of the maypole, gripping it tightly was an ancient leathery hand with red, bloody sores.
Some of us began to scream, and we all fled from the car park back to the safety of the playground, only to be met by a furious deputy head, who happened to be on duty that day. It was then I realised that most of the school had witnessed the maypole move, and it’s little wonder our absence was noticed!
The next day the headmaster stood in front of the school and said there was to be no more talk of the grey lady, and any child caught telling stories would be severely dealt with. Sure enough the rumour died down and so did any reports of paranormal activity.
My story could end there. But there is more.
Many years later I was talking to one of my former classmates and we were reminiscing the old days at that school. Inevitably conversation turned to the subject of the grey lady, and my friend turned white. “Don’t talk about her, ” He told me in earnest, “I was there the day she first appeared.”
It turned out he was with a friend in the storeroom under the stage. His teacher had given him the task of seeking out a prop for a forthcoming production. Both boys became aware of a sudden chill in the room, and then the strip lights flickered out momentarily. In those few seconds of darkness, my friend saw what he described as a transparent grey curtain floating in the air. Then he heard a thin ghostly whisper, and the words remained with him ever since, “I have come to meet with you once more. At midnight.”
The lights came on once more and it was later that day the deputy head was flung from the stage.
Scroll forward a few years and I was researching local ghost stories of Whitby for a ghost walk.
I found that the school stood on the same piece of land once occupied by a leprosy hospital in the dark ages. I also came across the story of a nun called Constance de Beverly, who had been bricked up in the Abbey Dungeons for an illicit affair with a knight called Marmion. As it happened there is no dungeon in the Abbey, and the characters mentioned are a work of fiction by Walter Scott. In the story the nun wasn’t bricked up at Whitby Abbey, but Lindisfarne Convent. But what if there really was a nun who behaved in such a way to disgrace the convent in Whitby Abbey?
Wouldn’t the convent put her somewhere out of the way where she could be conveniently forgotten? Could the red sores on her hands and feet be the results of an infection that she had contracted from her patients? We’ll probably never know.
I’m not sure what I saw that day in the teachers car park, whether it was a collective hallucination brought on by mass hysteria, or the grey lady herself. It was never fully explained and I don’t expect it ever will be.
However, by way of a postscript I found myself recently trawling the internet looking for other accounts of this story that I could compare my experience with. I didn’t find much, however on facebook there was a group put together by former pupils of that school for the purpose of sharing nostalgia and forming reunions. Among the reminiscences of various teachers and school dinners somebody asked, “Does anyone remember the grey lady?”
There was one anonymous reply.
“OMG! She’s still here!”
ROB LUPINE is a professional psychic entertainer and mind reader working from the East Midlands. He leads ghost hunts and investigations into haunted locations as well as presenting commercial shows with a supernatural theme.
Tales of the grey lady have been passed on and on. I remember the stories now after this jolted my memory. There was a store cupboard near the assembly hall that backed onto the car park. You only got privileges to go in there in year 6, the last year. I only went in there twice and both times it was very cold with an unsettled feeling. Made my business quick and got out before she turned up!! Good story, got the grey matter stirring again 🙂
As a teacher who was there at the time of the writer but can’t recall anyone of this name, I’m delighted to see that we did such a good job in getting Mr Lupine’s imagination to work so well. However, we failed with regards to veracity.
Although there was always rumours of the Grey Lady appearing in the hall and the stage area and they began long before Mr Lupine ever attended the school; the above is a piece of fiction.
That’s not to say that I totally disbelieve in the story as several children I taught have told me their stories as adults. They experienced something but no-one was flung from the stage, especially not the deputy head!
Like Mr Lupine, I could go on and on, but won’t.
Reading the comments above by Junior Teacher I feel compelled to respond.
The article is not a piece of fiction, in fact it is an honest account of my own experience as I saw it happening. Whether the Teacher remembers me or not is largely irrelevant, especially as they have refrained from giving their own name so I could verify if they were indeed teaching at the time I was there.
Junior teacher confirms nobody was flung from the stage. I would invite this teacher to go back and read my article again, as I made no such claim that had happened. in fact I say that I was not there to witness it. I was reporting what was conveyed to me by a fellow pupil, nothing more. As it was the talk of the school that day and lead to the events that followed I felt it was important to include and stand by that. Also the story of the Grey lady’s first appearance under the stage was a story conveyed to me, and I have presented it as such. Maybe the stories told to me by my fellow pupils were fictional, but my account was not!
If Junior Teacher were to go back to my article they would see that the only event I had firsthand experience with is the incident with the Maypole. That happened as I described it. I’m sorry Junior teacher does not remember it, but then again there were no teachers present with us at the time, also we got a huge rollocking for going out of the playground immediately after it happened so it is very unlikely any of us would have told a teacher what we saw.
I have no doubts stories of the Grey Lady go back to before my time there, my inclusion of the historical references would be backed up by that fact. By the way the main source of my historical research for this story is a book called Whitby law and legend and was written by a former priest of Whitby and includes the story of Constance de Beverly.
I would say to Junior teacher that my account is fair and I have used very little in the way of artistic license. And to say an account of events are fictional purely because they do not remember the events is largely laughable.